As COVID-19 forces sweeping changes on our lives, our Government’s obsession with investing in military security over real human threats has been laid bare. Billions have been poured into aircraft carriers, nuclear weapons and war ships, but our health and social care services were on their knees even before the crisis hit.
Amidst the uncertainty, there is a ray of hope. For years CAAT and others have argued that arms company workers have the vital skills needed to build a new greener economy. Yet the political will needed was not there.
The urgency brought by the pandemic saw these blocks lifted almost overnight. Faced with a shortage of ventilators, many of the biggest arms companies including Thales, BAE and Airbus joined Ventilator Challenge UK, a consortium building ventilation equipment, showing how, with government support, change can happen on the factory floor.
At a time when millions of people across the world are concerned about food supplies and the ability of our health systems to respond to crisis, we must keep up the pressure for peace in Yemen, a country whose fragile health system has been devastated by five years of war.
This is a war supported by the UK government, with UK-based arms companies profiting from the destruction. Now more than ever, it is time for peace.
At the time of writing in early April, there are new reports of Saudi forces declaring a two week ceasefire. This is the second ceasefire to be reported in as many weeks – but we still have to still hope this one holds and is taken up by other parties to the conflict. The UK and other arms dealing governments can play their part by finally ending their arms sales and support for the continuing bombardment.
As the UK adjusts to life under lockdown and social distancing measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, local groups and campaigners are taking their work online. Things are difficult right now, but alongside the anxiety and fear there are local and national networks of people connecting, supporting and caring for each other. Meaningful change needs strong communities, and the strong relationships and solidarity of our local groups and networks can help us.
With arms companies and governments forces to recognise that war and militarism cannot protect us from the real threats we face and redeploying troops and resources towards public health, this is also a moment of deep transition and change. Nothing will be the same afterwards, and social justice campaigners need to help shape the conversation about what comes next.
London CAAT are one of the groups who have taken their meetings online. They have even held an online day of action, shifting their vigil for Yemen online. Long-time campaigner and London CAAT member Ian Pocock says:
In February the Government announced that it was undertaking an Integrated Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy Review. Responding, the Commons’ Defence Select Committee invited three military academic experts to give evidence on 10 March. It was business as usual, with no mention of coronavirus or pandemics.
What a difference a week makes. On 17 March a former Chief of the Defence Staff and a former National Security Adviser were up before the Defence Committee. This time the discussion was dominated by coronavirus with both the witnesses stressing that pandemics had been a top tier risk when they were involved in the 2010 Review.